Chattering Classes: Unaccountable Elites Will Never Hand Us Our Rights


Photo of protest outside U.S. Supreme Court via UnSplash

The leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning abortion rights is a sad reminder that unelected, unaccountable elites don’t have our backs. Queer people need to focus our energies on being part of a people power movement that demands more of those we elect. It can be done – we’ve done it here in Rhode Island.


Unless you’ve been hiding out without internet access hundreds of miles away from another human being, you likely heard that on May 3, Politico released a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court of the United States that would overturn Roe v Wade. The opinion would reverse a 50-year precedent that ensured abortion was a right and hinted that many other precedents built on Roe would be reversed at the court’s next opportunity. This included marriage equality and even the ruling that made it unconstitutional to criminalize same-sex love.


The court’s recent rulings and what appears to be likely future rulings has forced many Americans to start coming to term with a difficult truth: The Supreme Court isn’t going to protect us.


Mass mobilizations have gathered in protest and our nation has started to have the much-needed discussion on curtailing the Supreme Court. Vox stated the court was facing a legitimacy crisis and pointed out this could lead to the possibility of elected leaders disregarding court rulings. New York Magazine went further, with David Klion writing that the court’s legitimacy “deserves to be damaged.”


Yet, the court’s latest actions aren’t a bug. In fact, if the court rules against women and then rolls back Queer and Trans rights, the court will be acting more in accordance with its long history than the handful of positive cases most of us hear about in high school.


The Supreme Court is an institution that has dismantled workers’ human rights and declared corporations are people. It has removed buffer zones between violent zealots and abortion clinics but has justices that whine about peaceful protesters showing up at their homes. The U.S. Supreme Court has at times ruled that Black people were not U.S. citizens, that segregation was legal – only reversing itself in Brown v Board of Education under intense public pressure, including from then-President Eisenhower – and dismantled the Voting Rights Act of 1965. All this and we haven’t even discussed the countless ways the court has benefited corporations or how the court legalized bribery and corruption.


Often the Supreme Court has been held up as a noble institution above politics. Yet, it would be more accurate to describe the Supreme Court as modern nobility – and it's just as much an affront to democracy. Justices are not elected, they serve for life, and the majority of them went to elite universities. Of the current nine justices, four went to Harvard University, a school where 15 percent of the students are from the 1 percent – that means, their parents made $630,000 or more per year. Meanwhile, another four went to Yale, where one in five students are from the 1 percent. In fact, at both universities, the percentage of students from the top 20th income bracket is 65 percent or more. Is it really a shock that these so-called justices act to uphold the powerful and cripple the marginalized?


Instead of trying to think about reforms for this institution. We need to stop giving the court the opportunity to declare what is and isn’t a right. They have not and will not have our backs. These far from noble arbiters of justice get to take away the rights of women and Queer people if they so desire because elected officials never codified these rights into federal law.


It can be done, and we have Rhode Island for a roadmap. In the Ocean State, marriage equality wasn’t handed to Queer people by a court, that could just as easily reverse such a decision, but through two branches of our legislature passing a bill and a governor signing it into law. Rhode Island did the same thing for abortion rights in 2019. Rhode Island politicians didn’t do this out of the goodness of their hearts but because activists mobilized and many politicians in the Ocean State have had their political careers put at risk by inaction.


Hoping privileged unaccountable elites will save us is as useful as licking an electrical socket. Instead of politely asking for our rights, we take them back.